PFW - South Dakota
Mountain-Prairie Region
Graphic button showing the 8 state mountain prairie region

Partners for Fish & Wildlife - South Dakota


Overview | Accomplishments | Focus Areas | Conservation Districts & State Associations | Contact Us | Open / Close All

  • Swan bunkers. Credit: USFWS.

    Swan bunkers. Credit: USFWS.

  • Just after restoration. Credit: USFWS.

    Just after restoration. Credit: USFWS.

  • South Dakota landowner (Spreck). Credit: USFWS.

    South Dakota landowner (Spreck). Credit: USFWS.

  • Praire Coteau aerial survey. Credit: USFWS.

    Praire Coteau aerial survey. Credit: USFWS.

  • Prien watering facility. Credit: USFWS.

    Prien watering facility. Credit: USFWS.

  • Restoration and grazing (Miner pasture). Credit: USFWS.

    Restoration and grazing (Miner pasture). Credit: USFWS.

  • Swans on restoration. Credit: USFWS.

    Swans on restoration. Credit: USFWS.

  • South Dakota grassland. Credit: USFWS.

    South Dakota grassland. Credit: USFWS.

The Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program in South Dakota uses an open philosophy to develop partnerships and programs that simultaneously promote wildlife conservation and sustainable agriculture.

Dennis and Jean Fagerland, South Dakota farmers and Partners participants, capture this spirit and note that the program "has proven itself to work, making agriculture and wildlife compatible with one another."

The South Dakota Partners Program has utilized this philosophy to voluntarily restore, enhance, and develop tens of thousands of acres of grassland and wetland habitats throughout the state, all with full landowner support and encouragement. A common thread through every South Dakota Partners project is the ability to be flexible and responsive enough to accommodate the site-specific needs and concerns of landowners. Since 1991, this approach has resulted in over 6,300 South Dakota landowners becoming valued Partners for Fish and Wildlife partners, and the number of new landowner requests for assistance continues to accelerate.

Overview »

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South Dakota Activities | Priorities | Long-Term Goals | Habitats | Conservation Strategies | Partners

Aerial survey of prairie potholes. Credit: USFWS.

Aerial survey of prairie potholes. Credit: USFWS.

Wetland development
Wetland restoration
Grassland enhancement
Grassland restoration
Riparian restoration
Prescribed burns

The five primary restoration and enhancement activities in the South Dakota Partners Program include wetland establishment, wetland restoration, managed grazing systems, grassland seeding, and riparian enhancement.

  • Wetland establishments typically consist of constructing small impoundments (6 to 8 feet deep and averaging 2 to 3 surface acres) on small drainages (less than 1,000 acres). Wetland establishments generally are constructed in grassland dominated landscapes utilized for livestock grazing.
  • Wetland restorations primarily consist of plugging surface ditches with earthen plugs. Wetland restorations conducted through the South Dakota Partners Program are most often associated with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service conservation easements or the Conservation Reserve Program.
  • Managed grazing system are predominately conducted in areas of high wetland densities (greater than 40/square mile) and native grassland. Four cell twice over grazing systems are the most popular systems used. In these systems, grazing units are split into four pastures and each pasture is grazed twice through the course of the grazing season.
  • Grassland seedings primarily involve seeding of cropland back to a mixture of native grasses and forbs. Typically five to seven species of grasses are used.
  • Riparian enhancement projects involve the fencing of streams or riparian areas to exclude livestock. These riparian areas usually are utilized for livestock watering, and therefore alternate livestock watering facilities are often created in conjunction with the riparian exclusions. Watering facilities consist of wetland establishments, dugouts, or pipe lines.


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We work with a wide variety of partners to implement high priority wetland and grassland conservation projects. Of particular importance is our work with ranchers to conserve grasslands for future generations of both landowners and wildlife. This priority scheme is consistent with and fulfills the implementation priorities denoted by a wide variety of conservation efforts including the North American Waterfowl Management Plan, the South Dakota Coordinated Soil and Water Conservation Plan and Partners in Flight. For example, the Partners in Flight plan for western South Dakota states that: "Maintenance of a ranching economy here is compatible with the needs of grassland birds and should be the highest conservation priority."

Long-Term Goals

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In general, the long-term goal of the South Dakota Partners Program is to promote a sustainable future for rural comminities, landowners and wildlife alike by restoring, enhancing creating and conserving high priority wetland and grassland habitats.


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Floodplain. Credit: USFWS.

Floodplain. Credit: USFWS.

The tallgrass prairie is widely considered one of North America’s most threatened ecosystems. Less than 4% of this globally unique grassland remains intact. Over 100 species of butterflies, 30 species of reptiles and amphibians, 50 species of mammals, and 250 bird species are known to breed in or use the tallgrass prairies of the Dakotas. The South Dakota Partners Program has made tallgrass prairie restoration, enhancement, and protection one of its highest priorities.

We recently joined with a host of local partners to initiate a 3-year, $500,000 effort to accelerate tallgrass prairie conservation throughout northeastern South Dakota. The primary goal of the project is to benefit both wildlife and livestock by working with ranchers to restore and enhance grasslands. Accomplishment estimates for this cooperative effort include over 7,000 acres of beneficial grazing systems, over 1,300 acres of restored grasslands, and 35 wetland developments. This project will focus on the mutual goals shared by wildlife conservation interests and family ranchers-- a shared vision of sustainable grassland management and tallgrass prairie conservation for future generations.

Conservation Strategies

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Threats | Conservation Strategies | Future Needs

Pond just after restoration. Credit: USFWS.

Pond just after restoration. Credit: USFWS.

Threats - « Back to section top

South Dakota was historically characterized by vast expanses of native tall-grass and mixed-grass prairie. The eastern portion of the state is interspersed with high densities of small glacially derived wetlands, making this a vital portion of the famous "Prairie Pothole" Region. In 2000, over 3 million breeding duck pairs were surveyed in eastern South Dakota. While the ecology of South Dakota was historically defined by this unique combination of grassland and wetland resources, habitat loss has been significant and continues to change the character of this landscape. Over 30% of the prairie wetlands and over 40% of the state’s native prairie have been lost. In particular, native prairie loss continues to be a resource concern with over 750,000 acres of native prairie lost to other uses since just 1985. Once native prairie is lost, we currently do not have the ability or understanding to fully restore these unique systems. Native prairies are very diverse and complex ecological systems that developed over thousands of years consistently host over 100 native plant species and a host of uniquely adapted invertebrate assemblages.

Conservation Strategies - « Back to section top

The primary conservation strategy of the South Dakota Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program is to work with local partner groups and landowners to foster actions that jointly further landscape conservation and sustainable agriculture. The cornerstone of this philosophy is based on a valuable partnership with the South Dakota Association of Conservation Districts and their member county Conservation Districts. This partnership has resulted in hundreds of jointly sponsored habitat projects and is a shining example of locally led conservation. County Conservation Districts have a proven conservation ethic and bring a critical degree of local knowledge and landowner support to resource issues. They literally serve as the local eyes and ears of the South Dakota Partners effort.

Consistent with this philosophy, the South Dakota Partners Program tailors projects to facilitate both resource conservation and sustainable agriculture. For example, wetland developments often provide waterfowl production, watershed restoration, and livestock water benefits, all on the same site. Likewise, rotational grazing systems help to simultaneously enhance native prairie plant communities and livestock performance. Furthermore, native grassland restorations provide immediate benefits to all guilds of ground nesting birds and are also greatly valued by ranchers as premium livestock grazing land. With the vast majority of South Dakota’s land in private ownership, these types of "win-win" projects are essential to an effective ecosystem conservation effort.

The average cost for Partners habitat restoration activities are:

  • $600/acre for wetland restoration
  • $150/acre for native grass seeding
  • $40/acre for grassland enhancement
  • $1,600/acre for wetland establishment

Future Needs - « Back to section top

  • Restore or develop 20,000 wetland acres
  • Restore or enhance 200,000 grassland acres
  • Restore 50 miles of prairie streams
  • New partnerships with 5,000 landowners


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Wagner grass tour. Credit: USFWS.

Wagner grass tour. Credit: USFWS.

  • Over 4,000 South Dakota landowners
  • 61 Conservation Districts
  • South Dakota Association of Conservation Districts
  • Lower Brule Sioux Tribe
  • Crow Creek Sioux Tribe
  • Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe
  • Yankton Sioux Tribe
  • Sisseton-Whapeton Sioux Tribe
  • Ducks Unlimited
  • Black Hills Chapter of Pheasants Forever
  • Northern South Dakota Chapter of Pheasants Forever
  • Wildlife Forever
  • East Dakota Water Development District
  • James River Water Development District
  • South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Department
  • South Dakota Department of Agriculture
  • South Dakota Department of Environment and Natural Resources
  • USDA- Natural Resources Conservation Service
  • USDA- Farm Service Agency
  • Federal Emergency Management Agency
  • North Central Resource Conservation and Development Association
  • Environmental Protection Agency
  • North American Wetlands Conservation Act
  • Bureau of Reclamation

Accomplishments »

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Photo of a swan. Credit: USFWS.

Photo of a swan. Credit: USFWS.

An 8-acre wetland, established by the North Dakota Partners Program in a cooperative effort with the Standing Rock Sioux Nation, will provide excellent shorebird habitat while at the same time serving as a water source for the Tribe’s buffalo herd.

FY 2013 Habitat Accomplishments

  • 404 Landowner projects
  • 3,837 Wetland acres
  • 61,809 Upland acres

FY 1987-2013 Cumulative Habitat Accomplishments

  • 6,341 Landowner projects
  • 34,069 Wetland acres
  • 1,322,563 Upland acres

Focus Areas »

Conservation Districts & State Associations »

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In 1992, the Tripp County Conservation District provided the impetus to build a 3.5-acre dual purpose (cattle and wildlife) pond for a landowner in Tripp County, South Dakota. Funding and technical assistance were provided through South Dakota Partners for Fish and Wildlife. Conservation Districts are units of local government, typically organized on county lines. In each state there is also an Association of Conservation Districts, which, in turn is aligned with the National Association of Conservation Districts, both non-profit organizations.

In South Dakota, our state Association of Conservation Districts receives grants and other contributions, and then funnels these funds out to 45 of their member Conservation Districts to pay for conservation work as part of Partners for Fish and Wildlife. For example, in April 1995 we channeled the following funds through the South Dakota Association of Conservation Districts:

North American Wetland Conservation Fund
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Ducks Unlimited
Wildlife Forever
Aberdeen Development Corporation
South Dakota Dept. of Game, Fish and Parks

The Conservation Districts at the local level are the "eyes and ears" to seek out landowners who want to participate in the Partners for Fish and Wildlife program. The local Conservation Districts collect a cost share from the landowners and raise other local dollars from a variety of sources to complete partner conservation work. Through this work they earn "in-kind" credits, which earn even more grant dollars to flow to their districts.

In South Dakota, this arrangement has been a tremendous asset in delivering Partners for Fish and Wildlife. It has also had the spin-off effect of building trust for all aspects of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service activities by giving the Service favorable visibility all across the state.

Contact Us »

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Brookings Wildlife Habitat Office

Kurt Forman
520-B 3rd Avenue North
P.O. Box 247
Brookings, SD 57006
(605) 697-2500


The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with Others to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American People.
Last modified: February 11, 2015
All Images Credit to and Courtesy of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Unless Specified Otherwise.
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